Why games need to stop letting everyone save the world

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Woah, and here I thought I played games to escape reality; I didn’t know I was missing an opportunity to be preached to about why my world-view was wrong again.

Thanks for setting me down the path or realizing my own insignificance.


The Thieves Guild is the only main employer in the game that hides its headquarters and makes its business to commit crimes and harm people’s livelihoods

I wouldn’t say the Assassin’s guild did people a lot of good either…

I thought Skyrim was kind of broken by letting you be the head of all the guilds in the same playthrough. I guess I could have not done that, though.

Nothing ever lasts forever,
everybody wants to save the world

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I’m saving the World right now.

I don’t like games that repetitively train young people to become rules-obeying murderers. “The authority figure says this man is your target; set up in the book depository windows and try for the kidney shot. We’ll slow down and zoom in on the writhing and screaming if you make the kill unnecessarily painful! Extra points if you splash blood on any children in the crowd!”


I like you!


Lucky you

Makes the annual meeting of the guild leaders a lot simpler when they’re all the same guy.


I do wish someone would make a game like Skyrim where you can optionally not kill anyone/thing. I tried playing Skyrim and avoided killing whenever possible. Eventually the freaking bears overwhelmed me while I was harvesting herbs.


I’ve seen the argument made(I’m afraid I forget exactly where and/or my memory is a composite of several peoples’ analysis and so not original; but too original to contain distinctive phrases that I can google down; so I’m afraid not credit is available) that, barring substantial technological advances, games that try to be ‘open world’ (as Skyrim very much does) are substantially doomed to also be ‘static world’.

Since the technology we would need to allow fully emergent RPGs is pretty much Not Yet Available At Any Price(Dwarf Fortress is probably the closest example available; and ‘things going off the rails into a cacophony of complete insanity’ is treated as a feature rather than a bug; and it doesn’t need voice actors, character models, etc.) any RPG you can actually build is going to be substantially constrained in terms of how much change can occur: every branch needs script written, lines voice-acted, potentially more motions captured, art assets produced, etc. In a closed world, the writers can keep the player on rails sufficiently that their choices can radically alter the world; because they can use the rails to ensure that a manageable number of possible outcomes need to be written, and that any game-breaking outcomes occur as final cutscenes rather than making 30 hours of in-game action either impossible or trivial.

In an ‘open’ world, there are enough moving parts; and few enough rails, that if they were allowed to interact ‘realistically’ with one another, even enumerating the possible outcomes, much less voice-acting them, would become a profound challenge. The way that all the different faction questlines in Skyrim more or less ignore one another is a good example: aside from a couple of Delvin Mallory’s lines that change if you are a Thieves’ Guild member when you run into him during the Dark Brotherhood questline; nobody appears to pay any attention. Nor do the various faction quests interact with the primary questline much: Vilkas ‘has never even heard of this outsider’ even if you’ve just finished a minor bit of “Oh, just beat down Alduin the World-Eater, as even the heroes of old could not; and then followed him to Sovngarde and devoured the soul of the firstborn of Akatosh; then headed to the inn for a drink, busy day and all, y’know?”

In the case of Maven, it would seem fairly logical that, once you complete a decent chunk of the Thieves Guild and/or Dark Brotherhood questline, a bit of regime change in Riften would be quite doable(and not through the civil war questline); the Empire is far away, and rather busy, so her alleged friends there are probably more bark than bite; the Thieves’ Guild now has independent financial footing again, and less incentive to do her work for scraps; and what’s she going to do; try to have the Dark Brotherhood kill the Listener?

Trouble is, allowing that would require introducing a whole new set of hold-governance mechanics, complete with suitably baroque explanations of what options are and aren’t culturally and politically practical, which would only really make sense if Skyrim’s population were at least 10 times larger, probably more like 100, so that there would actually be enough NPCs for ‘politics’ to actually have enough characters to illustrate why you can’t just walk into any random population center and beat down its Jarl(since, with the actual population numbers, any midlevel or later character should have little trouble exterminating all non-essential NPCs in any ‘city’ within 15 minutes or so).

It would, of course, have been a much cooler game if all that had been implemented; I just don’t expect that it would be finished for some time to come.

Something like Fallout: NV is a particularly good illustration of how the static-open-world vs. actually-changeable-world-on-rails interact. So long as you don’t touch too many of the 4 endgame questlines(Two of the ‘Wild Card’ quests, ‘The House Always wins IV’, ‘For The Republic’, or ‘Render Unto Caesar’) you can do more or less whatever amuses you without having the slightest influence on the game world. Your faction reputation will determine who shoots on sight, and whether some of the possible companions will deal with you, along with whether it’s NCR or Legion kill teams you have to deal with; but the world is both largely open to you and largely immobile. The fiends don’t have a ‘population’, just some spawn points. Neither the NCR nor the legion have actual troop strengths, supply chains, etc. Even powder gangers are an apparently unlimited resource, despite the fact that NCRCF couldn’t have held more than a couple hundred innmates, until you exterminate their leadership.

You can do more or less whatever you can survive; but only pressing specific, scripted, buttons actually does much that won’t respawn within a couple of weeks. When you start doing that, you end up going down one of a few fairly tightly managed endgames pretty quickly. Barring a pretty impressive advance in technology, we just can’t build very large decision trees for players to traverse; some games let you wander away from theirs; but treat anything you do as orthogonal to the plot; some keep you on-task and while you don’t get to choose what you’ll be choosing next, you can bet that it’ll probably be important.

(Forgot to mention: even the games that let you wander away from their questlines tend not to let you wander against them. If you never go fetch the dragonstone for Faregar, Skyrim will let you wander around picking herbs, pockets, and fights; but you either do advance the questline or don’t; there is no “rekindle the dragon-cults to be a herald of despair to mark the return of the world-eater; and glut yourself with the blood and broken bodies of your foes until you are finally devoured at the end of time!” option. Over in Mass Effect land, the same is true for Shepard s/he can do things that are more…and less…sensible in the context of alienating potential allies, getting useful people killed, etc.; but the ‘war assets’ system is structured to make it relatively hard to either utterly dominate or totally fail in the Reaper wars; and while you can waste more or less time on planet-scanning and beating down mercs on obscure backwater rocks; you can’t go off the rails and rejoin the all-reaper-teched Cerberus; or just say ‘fuck it, the Reapers are unstoppable.’ and go AWOL to enjoy a year or two of savage hedonism and piracy before the end of civilization. Again, because we can only build so much decision tree; it is relatively easy to accommodate wandering orthogonal to the plot, though even this sometimes leads to silliness (eg. ‘Ghost town gunfight’, the noob intro mission in NV where you have to rally Goodsprings against Joe Cobb and his henchmen; does not level because it’s a noob intro mission. If you ignore the prodding in the direction of that quest, you can return to town as a level 50 power-armored-badass with enough mini-nukes to earn a security council seat and everyone in the quest will act exactly as though you’d started it as a ~level2 with a half-broken varmint rifle. Aside from the absurdity of everyone fretting about whether somebody who has earned the ‘Lord Death of Murder Mountain’ perk twice over can handle a half-dozen lightly armed attackers; it never becomes possible to end this quest peacefully by convincing Joe to pick a softer target rather than mess with you.) it is much, much, more laborious and difficult to build the ability to make choices that radically subvert the plot: either those choices have to be identified, written up, and fleshed out until they are ‘plot’, possibly non-canon for the sequel, or those choices tend to just break large swaths of plot without any satisfactory results, it’s far harder to build plot quests that can survive the deaths of important characters without devolving into Mad Libs paint-by-number painfully generic quests(like, oh, all the ‘Dark Brotherhood Forever’ or Thieves’ Guild ‘job’ quests…): that’s why ‘essential’ characters were a thing in Skyrim in the first place: back in Morrowind there were no essential characters; but if you killed one that the plot depended on, you got a ‘the thread of prophecy has been broken’ message and either had to start from an earlier save and not do that; or ‘continue in this doomed world’. Incrementally more realistic; but vastly more frustrating, so now they just make it impossible to kill some people who are too important to various plot developments to die at that point. Less realistic; but fewer ‘oops, a dragon killed somebody vital; lose 6 hours of play!’ events.)


I don’t think that you can do much quest-line-advancing; but a competent Illusion mage can at least run the hell away from pretty much any situation.

(Whether you count inflicting frenzy effects on others and having them slaughter their comrades in a fit of magically and/or chemically-induced rage as ‘killing’ is up to you; but also something a competent illusionist can do; as can an alchemist, if they are willing to use either a low-damage weapon or the ‘poisoner’ perk to deliver the payload).

(There is also ‘Kynes’ Peace’ the world’s most disappointing thu’um; but you’d have to kill at least two ageless sentients(though, apparently, sadistic assholes, seriously dragons, try to make me slightly more conflicted about killing you) in order to make friends with the wilderness wildlife that way)

I believe there’s a mod called “natural wild life” (or similar), which simulates a more realistic flight/fight behaviour.

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Does it need to be pointed out that the saving the world concept is also customer demanded? Should there be different gaming storlines so the gaming consumer has a choice? Of course yes. That’s what so great about funding avenues like KickStarter. You can get funding for your different storyline idea, then get your proof of concept into the marketplace. If the main gaming console companies won’t immediately generate other games similar to the storylines you think should be out there, then that leaves your company able to produce similar games to satisfy that niche customers’ wants. Well, until the larger companies can reconfigure their resources to compete with you directly.


I read the article and I still don’t understand why games need to stop letting everyone save the world.


Oh, didn’t you know? Y’see, it’s like this…no art exists in a vacuum! It’s all wrapped up in the creator’s prejudices, fears, politics, gender, sexuality…games are not exempt.

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This should be another reminder for everyone to play This War of Mine, where you not only do you not save the world your best case scenario is simply surviving with permanent emotional damage and no semblance of your previous life left.

Each story is vastly different. You might have a soldier, thief, and chef in the same house where they don’t have a big problem with using force to take supplies; or you might have the gentle giant who can carry more than anyone but if he kills might hang himself a few days later. Decisions are permanent and important, and sometimes you might find a man that needs food when you didn’t carry any - only to arrive the next night and find the man dead in the basement of the building, maybe from starvation maybe from another survivor.

I cannot recommend the game enough, especially for those who enjoy resource management games.


Wow. What a bunch of self important horseshit. I mean I like a deep analysis of video games as much as the next person but this was just ridiculous.

I’m tempted to speculate that you do not, in fact, like deep analysis of video games as much as the next person.

Which is fine, especially since, unlike deep textual analysis in EN101, this is voluntary; but may not be something you can pass off as broadly representative.

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Politics in a nutshell.